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Sparks Fly on Spring Street… | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

Sparks Fly on Spring Street…

My new Think Again column is called "When Books Disappear" and it's here.

And I appear to be in the news: (From the NY Daily News, at a luncheon for The Giants on Wednesday):

While the luncheon brought out a bipartisan crowd, there was a little Republican-Democrat friction when the Nation columnist Eric Alterman approached Bill O’Reilly to thank him for apologizing on-air in 2004 for calling Alterman a “Fidel Castro confidant.” (On a later show, O’Reilly sarcastically claimed he was “foolin’ around.”) Alterman says “O’Reilly responded by twice saying, “Get away from me,” and eventually summoning a handler to intervene. O’Reilly told us there was “no run-in,” but Alterman said, “I’m beginning to think that maybe he wasn’t all that sorry.”

And while this was not in the news, this really did happen Wednesday night:

There was a reception in Soho for Steve VZ's new Netflix series. I had a close friend in town, who happened to have been my volunteer intern for the Bruce book, but is now a macher in the TV biz and he took me out to dinner. Since it was his business to develop such shows, he did not want to “work” and so we did not make the screening but as I thought it would be interesting to see who was at the party, I said let's eat down there.

So we did and when we were done, we walked by the hotel and the screening wasn't over, so I asked the girl at the door if I could see the list of who had come to it so I could decide whether to wait the ten minutes until the reception started. I couldn't believe it when I saw the name “Bruce Springsteen” with a check next to it. 

So we went downstairs and Steve was waiting for it to end and we waited with him and then everyone came out and Bruce and Steve took photos with Tony Bennett (and David Chase and other Soprano types) and then I waited and introduced myself  and thanked him for the lyric permissions I had gotten from him for my new book, (of which I’m pretty sure he had no idea) and he said "Hey, thanks for all your terrific writing in The Nation all these years" (or something like that) and then we talked for about 10-12 minutes, about lots of stuff, including our daughter’s respective tastes in music—I told him she was much bigger on Kanye and Jay Z than on him--and happily, I refrained from gushing but did find a way to congratulate him on being the only goy who had made it into my kid's Bat Mitzvah service.

It was the second time I've met him but the first time we spoke and it couldn't have gone better. I broke off the conversation after telling him I didn't want to talk to him too long lest he say something that might screw up my relationship to the music. He liked that too, I think. 

That’s all. Great guy, Bruce…. He’s playing the Apollo for Sirius Radio on March 9 if anyone has tickets and wants to take me. If not maybe you should buy the book.

Alter-reviews:
Jaimo’s Jasssz Band and Joe Henry:

I also saw two shows this week. The first was the new Jaimoe's Jasssz Band at the Gramercy Theater and it was a lot of fun. Did you know that Jaimoe toured with Otis Redding before he became the original drummer for the Allman Brothers Band. We’ll be seeing them a couple of times in March, but in the meantime, this Jasssz Band is a really fine blues band with a heavy jazz flavor. To be honest, it is dominated by the great Junior Mack, who is lead singer, songwriter and a great lead guitarist. The song selection was first rate, leaning on the same stuff that’s on their new album, “Renaissance Man” and including especially "Melissa," "Rainy Night In Georgia" and "Leaving Trunk.” It is, by my count, the fifth fine band to come out of the current Allman lineup and further makes my case that they are the single most virtuosic group of musicians playing anything, anywhere right now, (especially if you include Greg’s amazing voice). Read about the Jaimo record here.

Then Tuesday night I went to City Winery to catch a show by Joe Henry (with Marc Ribot joining on guitar). The entire show, or at least Joe’s part was dedicated to Joe ‘s new record, Reverie, an all acoustic album recorded in Joe’s basement with sounds like birds chirping through the windows to the ticking and stuff like that. It’s intelligent, moving and challenging in equal measure, as all Henry’s music is, but it’s also ironic since he is best known as a producer for people ranging from (my buddy) Ornette Coleman, Elvis Costello, Ani DiFranco, the forthcoming Bonnie Raitt cd and his close relation and occasional meal-ticket, Madonna. Ribot is all over the record and Tom Waits does a turn too. What’s not to like? More about Joe here.

Now here’s Reed:

Mitt Romney’s Sorry Foreign Policy
by Reed Richardson
That Mitt Romney, the current GOP presidential frontrunner, called his thinly veiled 2010 campaign treatise “No Apology” should come as no surprise. Though it was no doubt written before Obama’s first year in office had yet to conclude, the book and its title—which not so subtly draws upon a stubborn conservative myth about this President’s foreign policy—perfectly captures the rabidly reflexive nature of the modern Republican Party.Of course, with the economy still struggling to dig its way out of a massive hole and unemployment and jobs foremost on voter’s minds, the Republican primaries have spent little time debating foreign policy. (Some debates have skipped the topic altogether.) In many ways, though, what effort they do expend on foreign policy is ripped right from the same Obama-can’t-do-anything-right playbook. And Mitt Romney is, by no means, an exception, as his latest stump speech now includes a throwaway line that the president’s foreign policy amounts to little more than “pretty please.”

But the real conundrum facing Romney and the other GOP pretenders to the throne isn’t that Obama’s foreign policy has some notable successes. Or that the current administration’s actions, whether withdrawing from Iraq or fighting terrorism and scaling down the war in Afghanistan enjoy popular support from the public. It’s that their campaign trail criticisms have, as their foundation, little actual policy differences behind them.

Case in point, the killing of Osama Bin Laden. It should come as no surprise that the latest version of Candidate Romney offers up to Obama faint praise for taking out the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. While he did offer begrudging approval last May—he couldn’t bring himself to mention Obama’s name—this past December Romney was blithely telling MSNBC: “I think other presidents and other candidates like myself would do exactly the same thing.” Setting aside the often-overlooked fact that Obama had to lay the groundwork for that moment two years earlier, by restarting a covert program aimed at finding Bin Laden that George W. Bush had abandoned, it’s worth pointing out that the 2008 release of Candidate Romney was singing a different tune. For, back then, when Obama was pledging to unilaterally enter Pakistan to kill Bin Laden if such a chance arose—which it did and he did—it was Romney who was all about asking for permission: “I do not concur in the words of Barack Obama in a plan to enter an ally of ours… I don’t think those kinds of comments help in this effort to draw more friends to our effort.”

Good luck hearing someone from the traditional media confront Romney on this raging hypocrisy, however, because this notion among conservatives that the whole Bin Laden raid was some kind of happy coincidence is now slowly but surely being embedded into the Beltway media’s consciousness. For example, it’s no coincidence that, as part of her criticism of Obama’s recent State of the Union address, Washington Post columnist and Romney consigliere Jennifer Rubin had the gall to write: “After an easy applause line for killing Osama bin Laden, Obama then plunged into his economic defense.”

See what she did there? When I first read that sentence, I immediately had flashbacks to this old Saturday Night Live bit, and wondered if Rubin hadn’t initially practiced the above sentence by mumbling the words “applause line for” under her breath. By the time Romney debates Obama next fall, others in the media might be going so far as to suggest that Bin Laden somehow accidentally left his address on Leon Panetta’s voicemail and then willingly threw himself in front of Seal Team Six’s gunfire, all in an effort to avoid his later, inevitable assassination under a new Romney administration.

Indeed, on issue after issue, Romney’s shameless proclivity for trying to have his foreign policy cake and eat it too manifests itself time and again.

-He blasts Obama’s full withdrawal from Iraq as “sheer ineptitude” yet calls it “fortunate” the troops are now home and conveniently lacks the courage of his convictions to send them back if he were to become President.

-He repeatedly criticizes White House policy toward Iran while calling for “crippling sanctions,” kind of like the policies Obama and our European allies put in place this past week, which just so happened to have spurred Ahmadinejad back to thenegotiating table and which went unmentioned by the Romney campaign.

-He bemoaned that Obama was “leading from behind” and “following the French into Libya.” Yet when the regime of longtime dictator Qaddhafi finally crumbled under the dual pressures of a committed ground rebellion and a U.S./European air coalition, the Romney campaign’s first instinct was to bash the president and absolve him of any credit.

-Romney willingly joins in the GOP chorus in an attempt to out-butch Obama and position him as soft on terror. In fact, this administration has decimated Al Qaeda, thanks in part to a ramped-up policy of CIA drone strikes that—far from being “judicious” or asking “pretty please”—routinely tramples upon the sovereignty of foreign nations and has resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties.

-He dismisses as “hiding from reality” Obama’s 2013 Pentagon budget, which, absent a war in Iraq and with a dwindling role in Afghanistan, would trim 100,000 active-duty personnel from the military. Seemingly out of little more than spite, Romney instead calls for an increase of 100,000 personnel instead.

-In his campaign literature and debate rhetoric, Romney often dismisses Obama’s foreign policy decisions as predicated on an idea that “America is in decline.” But the president very publicly believes and espouses the reverse to be true.

-And just this week, he labels as “misguided” and “naïve” the Obama administration’s new deadline for exiting the wildly unpopular war in Afghanistan, yet when Obama’s predecessor proposed a similar timeline for leaving Iraq, Romney contorted himself into supporting timetables based on caveat that the White House and Iraqis keep it a secret from the public.

As one might expect of this generation’s political Zelig, a list of Mitt Romney’s hypocritical foreign policy positions runs much longer than the few I have documented above. Now, I would love for Romney to have to fully answer for any one of his aforementioned bouts of shameless anti-Obama grandstanding. But I’d settle for the press just laying bare his campaign’s single greatest foreign policy paradox—that his primary critique of Obama’s domestic policy and prescription for reinvigorating our nation’s economy both rest upon on a fundamental misreading of the state of the world. 

Romney continually pillories Obama in his stump speech by saying: “I want you to remember when our White House reflected the best of who we are, not the worst of what Europe has become.” Europe, in this case, being Romney’s not so subtle stand-in for notions like “elite” and “foreigner,” both of which bring with them well-known responses among a public that has endured years of Birther conspiracies and numerous storylines about the president’s so-called arrogance.

What’s most striking, however, is that, once again, Romney has it completely, utterly backwards. It’s his own misguided economic package that takes the “worst of what Europe has become” and tries to apply it here. His plan for massive tax cuts for the rich and deep cuts to the federal budget would not only balloon the deficit and shred the social safety net, it would embrace the exact kind of austerity measures that have sent European economies tumbling back into recession.

Obama’s stimulative economic policies, though tepid, have at least enabled the country to reverse course and fashion together an unmistakable, though weak, recovery. For a Romney administration to come in next year and impose even more draconian spending cuts would be to risk plunging our still vulnerable nation back into fiscal crisis. That Romney would so misread the lessons of the rest of the world in order to advance a political agenda that only benefits the 1 percent speaks to how far the modern Republican Party has sunk. That he would undertake such reckless policies, both here and abroad, unapologetically, doesn’t make them any less perilous. In the end, it will be the American people who will be sorry.  

Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com. 

The Mail:
Ben Willis

Queens

Dear Alterman,
 
Over the years I have had my issues with some of your opinions (most notably Ralph Nader, and your unwavering support for the Democratic party), but now I understand why you write the things you do. Mozart over Beethoven?!?!?!? Are you serious? Mozart was a lyrical genius. Every musical idea he wrote was melody and no doubt his appeal is universal, yet his compositions never reached the transcendence of those by Ludwig van Beethoven. I challenge you to compare any of Mozart's works for string quartets or chamber ensembles with Beethoven's late quartets. Ops. 127, 130, 131, 132, 135 and the glorious Grosse Fuge revolutionized music and can be heard not only as romantic works but as precursors to the modern age where the sound of the notes/chords themselves are as important as to how those musical ideas fit within the hierarchy of the key or the rigidity of phrase forms that mark Mozart's oeuvre. There is also the slight issue of the position of Beethoven's symphonies within the pantheon of great repertoire of the "classical" music. Not even Mozart's "Jupiter" can compare with any one of LVB's more well known symphonies such as; the "Eroica" (3rd), the iconic 5th, the Pastoral (6th), the Tanze (7th), and the glorious Ninth. (Not to mention the underrated 8th and the almost unknown Missa Solemnis which is considered Beethoven's Tenth). Ok, Mozart has his operas and Beethoven only has one. Mozart has his twenty-something piano concerts. But Beethoven's five are outstanding and the sonatas for Hammerklavier are light years ahead of anything Mozart wrote for the soloist.
  I thank you for the review of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. Some of my friends, including Claudia, were there playing that night. I also know Scott Ligon of NRBQ from way back in his Peoria days. I'm glad you're covering these events. But please save the missive about Mozart over Beethoven for some other forum.


Eric replies:
Dear Ben, 
I’m sorry. I should have pointed out that I’m a complete philistine when it comes to such things. I’m sure you’re right (and I’m not being sarcastic) but to be fair to me, I mentioned only as way of mentioning the Shaw/Shakespeare thing.

Asher Fried
NY, NY
Reed: I don’t think Obama is so naïve. I think he’s decided that he’ll be Mr. Conciliatory Compromiser and let the GOP look like the hardliners.  He really doesn’t believe he’ll achieve his goals by compromise; it’s just a posture that suits him. When he states he is for certain goals: public option, or the government’s right to negotiate drug prices or re-importation of drugs, he is telegraphing what he is willing to cave in on. He never expected to achieve those goals so he’d rather look like he is compromising by giving up items he deems important [knowing they were unachievable because of the GOP hardliners] to get agreement on anything.  Thus when the GOP threatened the government shut down, Obama caved on renewing the high-end Bush tax cuts, but he did get things he wanted.

It’s a tactic; it works to the extent that the President can get some things accomplished. The problem is that after a while unless he is willing to draw an absolute line in the sand somewhere the GOP push back will eventually get him nothing.

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